Movement 1: Nicht zu schnell
Movement 2: Langsam –
Movement 3: Sehr lebhaft
After hearing the Concerto played through by the cellist Christian Reimers, Clara praised its Romanticism, verve, freshness and humour; an 1855 review in the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung recognized Schumann as a representative of the so-called new-Romantic school. The work’s novelty lay in its reconfiguration of the relationship between soloist and orchestra, the formal arrangement of the movements and its adventurous harmonies (particularly in the finale). Soloist and orchestra seem at first to exist in separate spheres: the former reflective and rhapsodic, the latter trying to chivvy the music along by introducing livelier themes. Gradually the orchestra takes up fragments of the soloist’s melody, especially its opening ascent, the reappearance of which marks the transition between the second and third movements. By the sonata-rondo finale, soloist and orchestra work more closely together, sharing themes, and indicating that Schumann conceived the concerto on symphonic, rather than purely virtuosic, terms.
Despite the high regard in which the Cello Concerto is held today, Schumann found it impossible to arrange a premiere. Correspondence with Frankfurt-based cellist Robert Bockmühl and with Franz Messer, director of the Cäcilienverein, came to nothing: they thought the work too hard to perform, even after Schumann had reduced the tempo of the first movement and altered the cadenza. The Cello Concerto was not heard in public until 1860, when it was played by Ludwig Ebert at the celebrations in Oldenburg for what would have been the composer’s fiftieth birthday. Schumann had prepared a transcription of the Cello Concerto for violin in 1853, probably in the hope that it would be performed by Joachim. No such event has been recorded, but working on the score did lead Schumann to revise the cello version for publication by Breitkopf und Härtel in 1854.
An early review of the score, by violinist and composer Karl Böhmer, suggested that the Concerto might have been better suited to piano accompaniment. Many critics have questioned Schumann’s skills as an orchestrator (indeed, Dmitri Shostakovich re-orchestrated the Cello Concerto in 1963), but comparing the versions for cello and violin reveals how carefully he arranged soloist and orchestra—particularly in the original. There are no substantive differences between the cello and violin versions: the orchestral score remains the same, with the solo line simply transposed up an octave or two. However, the transcription for violin alters the instrumental colours, or timbre, of the work. In the first version, the relatively low register of the cello means its melodies sit in the middle of the orchestral texture; by contrast, the violin stands proud, above the orchestra. The change is particularly evident in the slow movement, where there is a prominent cello accompaniment: in the Cello Concerto, the two lines entwine; in the violin equivalent, high and low voices are divided.
A fair copy of Schumann’s transcription of the Cello Concerto, bearing annotations by the composer, was discovered among Joachim’s papers in 1987, after which an edition was prepared by Joachim Draheim. It was first performed in Cologne that year, by Saschko Gawriloff with the Westfälischen Symphony Orchestra under Walter Gillessen.
from notes by Laura Tunbridge © 2012